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About Criminal and Juvenile Justice


People with mental and substance use disorders are over-represented in the justice system.

It is estimated that 18% of the general population has a mental illness. However, an estimated 44% of those in jail and 37% of those in prison (PDF | 443 KB) have a mental illness (PDF | 670 KB). It is estimated that 11% of 18-25 year olds, and 6% of those over 25 years old have a substance use disorder. It is estimated that 63% of people in jail and 58% in prison have a substance use disorder (PDF | 670 KB). People with these disorders have challenges in getting appropriate treatment and often incarceration exacerbates their symptoms. This can lead to individuals staying incarcerated longer than those without behavioral health concerns.

Upon release from incarceration, people with behavioral health issues face many barriers to successful reentry into the community, such as lack of health care, job skills, education, stable housing, and poor connection with community behavioral health providers. These factors may jeopardize their recovery and increase their probability of relapse and re-arrest.

To reduce the human and fiscal cost and consequences of repeated arrests and incarceration for people with behavioral health issues, SAMHSA approaches the work through:

  • Early identification of individuals with mental and substance use disorders at all points of contact with the justice system – pre-arrest, booking, adjudication, reentry.
  • Use of screening and assessment to ensure linkage with evidence-based treatment, services and supports.
  • Diversion of individuals from the justice system into home- and community-based treatment.
  • Engaging law enforcement, first responders, and crisis management teams, justice court personnel, and community treatment providers in diversion strategies that meet both clinical and public safety needs.
  • Provision of training and technical assistance for law enforcement officers, juvenile and family court judges, probation officers, and other judicial decision-makers on behavioral health issues; and conversely, training for behavioral health treatment providers on criminogenic risk and the criminal and juvenile justice system.
  • Provision of an array of services and supports to enable successful reentry into the community for those transitioning from incarceration or detention.
  • Assurance of equitable opportunities for diversion and linkage to community services and supports for all populations in order to decrease disproportionate minority contact with the justice system.
  • Promotion of cross-sector collaboration to better serve these populations dually involved with the behavioral health and criminal justice systems.
Last Updated
Last Updated: 05/24/2024
Last Updated